By Mark Hallum
Newly appointed MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota and Executive Director Veronique Hakim rushed to the scene of an A train’s derailment Tuesday in Harlem which they later blamed on a loose rail stored on the tracks.
In the early evening the two transit executives said a preliminary investigation indicated human error — not a track defect — was responsible for the accident that stranded about 500 passengers on the A, C, B and D trains.
“Storing equipment in between tracks is a common practice employed by railroads across the country to accelerate rail repairs,” the statement said. But it pointed out that the extra equipment must be properly bolted down, “which does not appear to have happened in this case.”
Dozens of people were injured, according to NY1. Casualties kept rising beyond the three injuries originally reported, as stories emerged of straphangers making their way through the damaged subway tunnel.
Riders took to social media to tweet about the disastrous commute, with images of broken class and smoke-filled tunnel as people were being guided to safety by FDNY and MTA staff.
Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin also asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fix a problem that seems never-ending.
“Scared subway riders have one question: Where is Gov. Cuomo? As the subway crumbles from decades of neglect, Gov. Cuomo continues to point fingers instead of coming up with a credible plan to fix the MTA,” Raskin said, also referring to a stalled F train in early June which left crowds of people trapped for over an hour near the Broadway-Lafayette station. “Regardless of the proximate cause of today’s derailment, nothing should cause a train to come off the rails. First, an F train traps people underground. Then, an A train derails. Incidents like this will keep happening until Gov. Cuomo takes charge with a plan to fix a failing transit system. What will it take for the governor to stop making excuses and start funding public transit?”
Service on the A train between the Jay Street/MetroTech and 207th Street stations was suspended while the C was not running at any point along the line. Riders were told to use the 1 train, running parallel to the A/C just blocks away.
The D trains were suspended between Bryant Park at 42nd Street and 161st Street, while the B was not running at all.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) issued a statement about a petition calling on the MTA to fully address the endemic delays and breakdowns commuters have faced in recent months.
“The MTA is a total disaster. When are we going to realize how bad this crisis is and finally do something about it?” Gianaris said Tuesday. “When we return to Albany tomorrow, we should not leave without addressing this emergency once and for all. My petition demands Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature finally take action to fix a problem that they created.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall